Look inside the new Cleveland Hebrew School (CHS) Solon building and all you'll see right now is equipment, wires and a lot of dust.
But in a few months, the halls will be filled with chattering students on their way to the computer lab after Hebrew class. Preschoolers will crowd around a small kitchen in their classroom, learning about holiday foods. Students will be putting on plays in the auditorium when it isn't being used by local families as a sanctuary for worship.
This is the plan for the SOM Center building, located south of Aurora Road, which will not only hold CHS's Solon branch, but the Jewish Community Center Kadima Gan preschool and after-school-care program and Kol Chadash Reform congregation.
The walls, wiring and even some of the floors and fixtures are in place on this $3.5 million project six years in the making. Standing in what will eventually be the main entrance hall, philanthropist and project spearheader Sam Frankel murmurs, "We have the rooms. Now we need the children."
The CHS building is being partially funded by the Jewish Community Federation's ambitious Centennial Initiative for Jewish Cleveland. All organizations involved in the project hope it will become the "central address" of the Jewish community in Cleveland's southeastern suburbs.
Decked out in his own personal hard hat, Frankel trudges through debris. All the contractors stop to greet Frankel, calling him "Boss" or "Sam the Man," as he carefully inspects the progress of the building that is taking shape largely due to his "vision."
"He's practically supervising the entire job," says his wife, Rina, with a smile as Sam pokes his head into every half-finished classroom and lavatory. "He's here twice a day."
The Frankels, both past presidents of CHS and whose children are all alumni, negotiated for and bought the several parcels of land upon which the facility sits. They then donated it to the school. Their financial commitment helped solidify Federation's financial and administrative support for the building.
CHS has conducted classes in Solon for 10 years, but has never had a permanent home. CHS Solon currently has an enrollment of around 50, and rents space within Kadima Gan's facility. Once the SOM Center building is complete, the preschool and Kol Chadash will become CHS's tenant. While the building will be owned by CHS, it will be administered by Federation, where both CHS and the JCC are partner agencies. That administrative arrangement is not unlike the one in place at the Agnon-College Building in Beachwood.
The building will be finished with sandy colored Jerusalem stone, similar to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, another Centennial Initiative project. The Frankels say they selected the stone themselves while visiting a quarry in Jerusalem.
CHS classrooms occupy the heart of the building, most of them accessible from a large central atrium that CHS will share with the JCC's Kadima Gan. The preschool occupies the building's north wing, while its south wing is primarily taken up by an auditorium.
Classrooms feature prominent windows providing a lot of light, Rina points out. Some interior classrooms and offices have glass walls, adding to the open feeling of the building.
Superintendent Judith Shamir will oversee all CHS operations from her office in Beachwood. A Solon site director will be hired to administer activities at the new facility. The K-8th-grade curriculum taught in both locales will be the same: a three-day-a-week, non-denominational program focusing on Hebrew language, prayer, Torah, and Jewish holidays and customs.
JCC Kadima Gan's wing has its own entrance off the north parking lot. Its office and a room for the JCC's Family Place are positioned right off the "drop-off door." Each Kadima Gan room has its own bathroom and several classrooms are adjoining other classrooms.
The CHS auditorium will be used as a "large muscle room" (or, a gym) for Kadima Gan youngsters. A playground will be built outside.
While CHS will use the auditorium for assemblies and student performances, it will be the first permanent sanctuary for Kol Chadash, a relatively new Reform congregation.
As part of Kol Chadash's rental agreement with CHS, its approximately 17 students will attend religious school there, increasing enrollment.
"It's win-win," enthuses Kol Chadash president Robert Gross, noting that until partnering with CHS, the congregation was struggling with the prohibitive costs of starting its own religious school.
Kol Chadash is around six months old and was formed to provide Jews in the southeastern corridor with "something close to home," Gross says. The approximately 25 family congregation boasts many previously unaffiliated members, he adds. "We wanted something smaller, more friendly and inclusive. And we want to keep it that way. We don't want to become a 500-family congregation."
Currently, Kol Chadash, which recently hired a rabbi and cantor, meets at the Macklin Event Center in Solon, a party facility. Having a permanent home within a community-operated building will not only help Kol Chadash attract new members, Gross hopes, but it will also enable the fledgling congregation to become more involved in community outreach and tsedakah projects.
JCC Kadima Gan will move all its current programs to the SOM building. This school year, it has an enrollment 66 preschool children and 12 after-school, hailing from such communities as Solon, Twinsburg, Bainbridge, Aurora, Chagrin Falls and Bedford. The new facility will give Kadima Gan the capacity to expand to around 110 children.
Some of that expansion will be into a new infant daycare program still being planned.
Kadima Gan preschool and after-school use primarily the same curriculum as the JCC's Beachwood and Cleveland Heights locales.
Shamir and the Frankels say that CHS plans to move into the building during winter break. Both Kol Chadash and Kadima Gan say they will move into the building as soon as it is deemed safe for occupancy and all licenses and permits have been obtained. For the preschool, that could mean a mid-school year move. Although the exact move date remains uncertain at this point, JCC officials guarantee that Kadima Gan will be fully installed in its new facility for the start of the '05-'06 school year at the latest.
Leaving the chilly construction site to get warmed up, the Frankels observe that they no longer have any children or grandchildren attending CHS, nor do they live in Solon.
"We've could have stepped away a long time ago," says Rina. "But we knew it was important to reach out to Solon, Twinsburg, Bainbridge, Hudson. Both of us feel strongly about Jewish education. I wish every parent could afford and would be motivated to send their children to day school. But, that's not a reality. That's why there's been Cleveland Hebrew School for 114 years."
Cleveland Hebrew School dedication is Sun., Nov. 21, at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m., at the new Solon branch building, 6545 SOM Center Road. 216-464-8050.